HIGHLY SUSPECT SET TO PLAY AFTERSHOCK CONCERT FESTIVAL!
If you want to stay on Johnny Steven’s good side, then don’t call Highly Suspect just a rock band. The lead singer says, they are so much more than that, incorporating different styles including rock, hip-hop, blues and even some electro. Their music is fresh, energetic and has earned them multiple award nominations, including being invited to perform their Grammy award nominated song, “Lydia” at the 58th annual Grammys. Highly Suspect, which includes lifelong friends, Johnny Stevens and twin brothers Rich and Ryan Meyer, hail from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they started as a local cover band, playing everything from Pink Floyd to Sublime, honing their style, while writing their own music and later taking off and founding Highly Suspect. Their second studio album, “The Boy Who Died Wolf” that is out now, is being touted as one of the best rock albums in years, earning them yet another Grammy nomination for their edgy rock and hip-hop infused single, “My Name Is Human.” The album also includes an amazing bluesy cover of Real Life’s synth-pop classic, “Send Me An Angel.” The trio is currently living the dream, playing loads of sold-out shows on their exciting World Tour and is one of the most anticipated bands on Sacramento’s upcoming Aftershock Music Festival, which also features, NIN, Ozzy, A Perfect Circle and more. Check out www.aftershockconcert.com for more information and to purchase tickets.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Johnny Stevens, the charismatic lead singer/guitar player and pick his brain about music and what makes them tick…
SBP: How has life been treating you in your world?
JS: I guess all in all when I take a minute to reflect on what life is for us these days I would say it’s been treating us kindly. It’s almost surreal.
SBP: You’re originally from Cape Cod, do you still live there?
JS: We haven’t lived on Cape Cod for almost ten years now. Growing up as a native in a tourist town I’d often get aggravated with the summer visitors. I’d be jealous or something that they would just show up in summer when everything is perfect, and not work but simply vacation. I can remember scowling at cars that had New York license plates. Ironically enough now, I’m the guy with the out of state plates that shows up once in a while to lay on a beach. I don’t go very often though. We stole most of our best friends and gave them jobs, so we just visit occasionally to check on the family. I much prefer hopping a flight to London or spending my free time in California.
SBP: How did you get into music and when?
JS: I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember. For me it was my father, he always had something playing that would grab my attention. Then once I had my own Walkman, I just started tuning out the world. I was that kid that never took his headphones off. I used to think it would be so great to be an artist for a living but I knew it was impossible. Like the people that made it successfully were just aliens, and I was just a human that would ultimately wind up tethered to a job I didn’t like. I don’t think with these limitations anymore. When I was twenty-three, I decided to abandon the idea of normalcy and instead turn life into a cartoon. Once I did that, I could mentally draw whatever I thought of, so I drew a successful career in the arts with my best friends.
SBP: Highly Suspect is a cool name, how did you form the group and what’s the story behind the name?
JS: Thank you. I wish there was some amazing story behind the name but we were just stoned, and so we typed the word “high” into an online band name generator, and that’s pretty much it. Saw Highly Suspect and said, “Ok, that will work.” Riveting story, right? In the years that followed I wanted to change the name so many times because I would get sick of it or think maybe it was a stupid name, but then realized names don’t matter too much. Take Arctic Monkeys for instance. That’s one of the stupidest names I’ve ever heard of for a band. It just makes me think of some twelve-year-old kid that thought he came up with the most ironic statement to ever exist. I honestly hate that name so much. But low and behold they are one of the most successful bands on the planet and not to mention one of my favorite bands in recent times. So, I’m not shitting on them, I love their music. Just pointing out that both of our groups probably could have had better names, but it doesn’t seem to matter. As for how HS formed it’s pretty textbook. We grew up in the same place at the same time with the same interests. Nothing was more fun than drinking shitty beers and making noise in front of our friends and the girls we wanted to impress.
SBP: The vocals are amazing with comparisons to the late Chris Cornell, which must be nice to hear, considering he was one of rocks greatest?
JS: Thank you for the kind words and please don’t think I’m ungrateful for what I’m about to say, but I’m quite sick of comparisons. Chris had a much better voice then I will ever have, and that’s just a fact.
SBP: I hear a lot of blues, 90’s rock, and Pink Floyd influences, but I also hear some hip-hop in your sound and vocal flow, where did that come from?
JS: The hip-hop vibes that you’re hearing come from my obsession with hip-hop. I don’t listen to rock even half as much as I listen to hip-hop or electro-pop. Slowly but surely, I’m figuring out a way to make a new genre. I don’t want to be a rocker. I don’t want to be a rapper. And I sure as HELL don’t want to be a rock-rapper like on some Fred Durst shit. I keep chipping away at it, this next start really exploring the possibilities. I’m almost certain I can tastefully make hip-hop, pop, and rock and roll kind of fuse together to make a sound no one has ever heard yet. That’s my goal anyway. And again, tasteful is the word. The most important part of a song is to make sure it’s got a timeless feel and not just some novelty. But yeah if you look at “Lydia” or “My Name is Human,” they are just hip-hop songs in disguise, and we snuck them into rock radio. The beats, the vocal pattern…I hang out with rappers and pop girls. This stuff we’re working on now will be even harder to define/label, and that’s exciting to me.
SBP: Your song “Lydia” got nominated for a Grammy and you actually played, why didn’t they just put you guys on the main show?
JS: That’s not really my question to answer. I would assume it’s because nobody knew who we were and when you’re dealing with primetime TV money and ratings you don’t want your audience to change the channel for a second. I’m grateful we weren’t on the television during our first time at the Grammys. It would have been too much too soon. I’m just excited that we’ve been nominated three times now and that the recording industry recognizes us as a valid artistic entity.
SBP: Lyrically your songs are deep and relate to real life stuff, sounds like you’ve been through a lot?
SBP: Your song “For Billy,” was written about a friend who committed suicide and really hits home to many battling, was that your intention to bring more awareness?
JS: No that wasn’t the intention when I wrote it. I wrote it because I needed to help myself heal. I wrote the song the day after he died, in tears. I was in Bogota Colombia at the time. It feels great to know that so many people have been able to gain something from the song and to know that it’s helped people get through their own struggles. But I’d be lying if I said anything other than the truth, which is that I wrote that for Billy, myself, and our inner circle of friends.
SBP: You guys are touring the world, tell us about that experience?
JS: Touring the world is literally the most ridiculously satisfying thing anyone could ever do. I get paid to visit different countries. It doesn’t seem real sometimes and I’m just trying to appreciate it as much as I can. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t stay in America for more than three months at a time. Luckily with the band, we are in different countries all the time, but even when we don’t have shows lined up, I travel. I can’t sit still…this world is way too epic. A 12 or even 24-hour plane ride used to seem like the biggest ordeal ever, but now it’s just as normal to me as anything else. Can’t look back now. I will never stop traveling this world now that I know just how easy it is to do.
SBP: You’re playing the Aftershock Music Festival in Sacramento October 21st, that has a huge rock lineup including NIN, Ozzy, and A Perfect Circle. What can people expect?
JS: I’m just excited about the after party/cookout we’re gonna throw with Eagles of Death Metal. Jesse has become one of my greatest friends. We’re even working on some cool music at the moment and starting to figure out what we can do with it. But I don’t care about the big fancy rock line up. Aftershock is just a fun festival and a ton of our friends’ bands like Gojira will be there. I don’t know what our set is gonna look like yet but I know we’ll be in a good mood and you never know who might pop up on our stage.
SBP: Tell us something about yourself that nobody knows?
JS: If I do then I’ll only have one less thing to hold on to for myself in a life that’s already too public. I’ll pass this time 🙂 thank you for reaching out and talking with me and get ready for the shitstorm we’ll be creating over the next year. It’s almost like everything we’ve done to this point was just a warm-up. I wish I could tell you what’s about to happen but you’ll just have to wait and see.
For more information on Highly Suspect check out their website HERE.